Arkansas statues at US Capitol to be replaced with Daisy Bates, Johnny Cash

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  • Arkansas lawmakers have decided to replace statues at the U.S. Capitol due to little recognition of obscure historical figures.
  • The new statues will represent civil rights leader Daisy Bates and musician Johnny Cash.
  • The Bates and Cash statues will replace those of James P. Clarke and Uriah Rose.

When Arkansas lawmakers decided five years ago to replace the statues representing the state at the U.S. Capitol, there was little objection to getting rid of the existing sculptures. The statues that had stood there for more than 100 years were obscure figures in the state’s history.

“I remember giving tours to constituents from Arkansas, to young people, and I would point out the two representatives in Statuary Hall in our United States Capitol from Arkansas,” said former Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who also served in Congress. “And they would say, ‘We’ve never heard of them.’”

Instead of two little-known figures from the 18th and 19th centuries, the state will soon be represented by the “Man in Black” and a woman who was instrumental in the fight over school desegregation.

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Officials plan to install statues of civil rights leader Daisy Bates this week and musician Johnny Cash later this year.

Statue

Artist Kevin Kresse, is shown with a clay bust of Johnny Cash on April 23, 2024, in Little Rock, Arkansas. Kresse’s full sculpture of Cash will be unveiled at the U.S. Capitol as part of the Statuary Hall collection, later this year. (AP Photo/Mike Pesoli)

Bates, who headed the state NAACP, mentored the Black students known as the Little Rock Nine who integrated Central High School in 1957. She is a well-known civil rights figure in Arkansas, where a downtown street in the capital, Little Rock, is named in her honor. The state also marks Daisy Bates Day on Presidents Day.

Benjamin Victor, the Idaho sculptor who was chosen to create the statue of Bates, said he began his work by extensively studying her, including reading her 1962 autobiography and visiting her Little Rock home and Central High. He said he hopes the statue will help U.S. Capitol visitors learn more about her as well.

“I hope it really first and foremost inspires them to study Daisy Bates’ life and legacy,” Victor said. “A big part of it is to capture that spirit of hers and inspire others to do the same and stand up for what’s right.”

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The 8-foot tall bronze statue depicts Bates, who with her husband published the Arkansas State Press newspaper, walking with a newspaper in her arm. She holds a notebook and pen in one hand and wears a NAACP pin and rose on her lapel.

Cash was born in Kingsland, a tiny town about 60 miles south of Little Rock. He died in 2003 at age 71. His achievements include 90 million records sold worldwide spanning country, rock, blues, folk and gospel. He was among the few artists inducted into both the Country Music Hall of Fame and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

The 8-foot tall statue of Cash depicts the singer with a guitar slung across his back and a Bible in his hand. Little Rock sculptor Kevin Kresse, who was selected to create the statue, has sculpted other musical figures from Arkansas such as Al Green, Glen Campbell and Levon Helm.

Kresse views Cash as a much-needed addition to the Capitol as a counterbalance to the conflict in Congress, he said.

“He walked the walk and he lived what he believed. And that was just this quality that really appealed to me,” Kresse said. “And that interior thoughtfulness was something that I really wanted to try to bring out in this sculpture.”

The Bates and Cash statues will replace ones depicting James P. Clarke, a former governor and U.S. senator in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and Uriah Rose, a 19th century attorney. The statues had come under scrutiny, especially over racist comments Clarke made calling on the Democratic Party to preserve “white standards.”

Republican Sen. Bart Hester, a Republican who is now the Senate president pro tem, began calling for the statues to be replaced in 2018. Clarke Tucker, Clarke’s great-great-grandson and a Democratic state senator, also called for his ancestor’s statue to come down.

“There was recognition broadly that it was time for a change,” said Hutchinson, who signed the 2019 law requiring the Bates and Cash statues to go up.

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Choosing their replacements was the hard part, with lawmakers offering competing ideas ranging from Walmart founder Sam Walton to a Navy SEAL from the state who was killed in Afghanistan. After some wrangling, lawmakers eventually approved Bates and Cash.

Sen. David Wallace, who sponsored the legislation to replace the previous sculptures, said he hoped the new statues would tell people more about the types of figures Arkansas has produced over the years.

“We wanted to do the common person that represented Arkansas,” Wallace said. “And I think that with Daisy Bates and with Johnny Cash, we covered the spectrum in Arkansas. Just, they represent the common folks of Arkansas.”

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